Colorado is home to our nation’s only Supermax penitentiary, located in Florence. Many of our nation’s most dangerous terrorists and criminals are incarcerated there, including Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Aurora theater shooter James Holmes, Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, and Robert Hanssen, the former FBI agent convicted of Russian espionage.
Recently, Bernie Sanders told a town hall audience in New Hampshire he believed all incarcerated criminals, including those jailed at the Supermax, should be eligible to vote.
As a former prosecutor in Weld County, this may be one of the more deranged suggestions I have ever heard from a presidential candidate — much less a leading candidate for the Democratic nomination. During my tenure as Weld County D.A., we aggressively pursued lengthy prison sentences for perpetrators of violent crime. Suggesting those same violent felons should have the right to vote from prison isn’t just an affront to our democracy, it is an attack on every victim who has suffered at the hands of these criminals.
Incarcerated felons lose a variety of constitutional rights in Colorado, including their right to possess a firearm (permanently), their right to free association, and their right to vote. Other constitutional rights are also curtailed such that they do not interfere with the status of prisoners as inmates. Yet for some bizarre reason, Sanders wants to prioritize voting rights for incarcerated felons over all of these other enumerated constitutional guarantees.
This discussion also raises a variety of questions Democrats might not be eager to answer. Under Colorado state law, registered voters have the right to affiliate with a political party and participate in a caucus. Would new voting rights for jailed felons include the right to affiliate and caucus from prison, or would Democrats mandate inmates register as “Unaffiliated” against their will? If Democrats want to let incarcerated felons affiliate, would they permit them to run for state or national delegate? That certainly would add a new wrinkle to next year’s Colorado Democratic Assemblies.
What’s even more outrageous is this offensive idea wasn’t even shot down by other Democratic presidential candidates. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., seemingly agreed when asked about Sanders’ comments, saying that “we should have that conversation.” Even Colorado’s own top election official, Secretary of State Jena Griswold, “would not clearly answer one way or another” when asked if she believes incarcerated felons should be allowed to vote.
This shouldn’t be a hard question, and yet we see Democrats hedging and refusing to condemn the man who won their caucus here in 2016. Thankfully, Sen. Cory Gardner didn’t sit back and let these dangerous ideas go unchecked. While Sanders was applauded by his radical base, Gardner highlighted just how insane the idea of “Prison Precincts” at the Supermax would be. Colorado Democrats have plunged into socialist lunacy if they truly intend to use voting rights for violent incarcerated felons as a cudgel against Gardner next year.
I challenge Sanders to come to Colorado and tell families here that felons convicted of aiding terrorist organizations like al Qaeda should have the right to vote or that sociopaths like the Aurora theater shooter should be granted suffrage while behind bars. I can assure Democrats this will not be met with applause, but rather condemnation.
Sanders and Colorado Democrats have become so extreme in their race for higher office that they are willing to say and do anything to stand out. While Democrats continue to pander to their fringe socialist base, Coloradans will remember their refusal to stand up for common sense when we go to the ballot box in 2020.
Ken Buck, the chairman of the Colorado Republican Party, represents Colorado’s 4th Congressional District.